I remember when Andy Irons rode Arakawa boards under HIC (I remember when he had an undercut, too, the poor guy). The appearance of his now-familiar, scripted Billabong label circa 2005 was a bit confusing, since Billabong made hats and fleeces – but not surfboards. And they still don’t make surfboards, per se, but as Stab explains on its website, clothing companies like Billabong have entered the board market by contracting with independent shapers and distributing their wares among surfers both pro and public. The idea is that Mick Fanning, riding for “Rip Curl Surfboards,” can source his quiver from Rip Curl’s team of private foamsmen: Darren Handley and Wade Tokoro, for instance. Rip Curl gets to grab some more of Mick’s deck space for its name or logo, and the shapers get paid handsomely as their RC crafts jet off to a thousand global retailers. It sounds like a nice little equation.
It’s also a reversal of past contagion between the board and clothing businesses. Think of …Lost, which separated its hard- and soft-goods activities to accommodate the growing human capital in Chris Ward (he got a better clothing deal but couldn’t stay off the Mayhems*). Or Rusty, who built an enormous soft-goods company around his San Diego hand-shaping operation. But moving in the opposite direction is an attempt by the big names in t-shirt making to lock down a few magic planers for the benefit of their A-teams.
The big question, as Stab notes, is whether this road leads to exclusivity between contracted board makers and corresponding professionals – like if Andy could only ride from the Billabong stable, and if Tokoro could only shape for the Rip Curl team. From the outset such a program would seem untenable. Would a surfer really junk a magic board just because it came from the “wrong” factory? Recall the Olympic swimmers in Beijing who broke ranks with their sponsors at the last second to don Speedo’s LZR suit simply because,